When I was young, thinking of God meant conjuring up a mental image of an old man in long white robes and a white beard. He was always there in my mind, living in the clouds.
In this stage of my young life, I knew that I loved God. I loved God as only a child can – naturally, ignorantly. I didn’t know much more than this image and that God was The Creator, my Creator.
But as I matured, I questioned many things about this image of God. I wondered why God is a man: and why isn’t God closer to us to know what is going on down here in the trenches? I knew very little about God beside this image, an image that made me feel far from God.
As I grew, questioning became a part of the process of maturation. As I grew, my nature remained but my ignorance was shedding. Still, I knew God was The Creator, my Creator.
As I reflected on God the Creator, God led me to Islam in which I learned more than I ever thought possible about God. I learned that none of my visualizations of God were correct.
God is Near
God is not a man or a woman. The implied duality and need of the two sexes makes no sense when applied to The One Who is utterly unique and free from need. And the pronouns we use to describe Allah only reflect a failing of our language to encapsulate the Divine.
I learned that God is not floating on a cloud far from our problems. But He is near. Even though He is above His throne, He is closer to us than even our own jugular vein for He knows what is in our very hearts. My image of God matured as my faith did.
Far from my childish mental picture of God, I learned that Allah is completely beyond our imagining. God cannot be put in a box created by the human mind. The Prophet, (peace be upon him) explained this about God:
“Whatever comes to your mind regarding physical characteristics or mortal attributes, Allah is far Exalted above that and that does not express the real concept of the divine entity of Allah (SWT).”
I was both amazed and perplexed by this redefinition of who Allah is. Thinking of God as beyond my imagining created an uncomfortable place in my mind. I struggled to resist the urge to imagine a physical description of Allah. It is a human tendency to want to define something, to want to put a face to a name.
There is to Him No Equivalent
But this taught me something about physical descriptions and labeling in and of itself. For me as a child, to know God or to know anything or anyone meant collapsing a complex being and embodying all that being is into something superficial.
In this awkwardness of trying to understand God, I realized that depending on these physical descriptions of God, meant nothing. Having one physical quality or another gives us no idea about Who this Eternal Creator is in actuality.
God tells us He has a face:
And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So, wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (Quran 2:115)
But it is nothing like our imagining of what a face is, should be, or can be.
God tells us He has a hand:
Indeed, those who pledge allegiance to you, [O Muhammad] – they are actually pledging allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is over their hands. […] (Quran 48:10)
But how can our minds conceive of An Unlimited Being’s hand? Our imaginations cannot conceive of it.
Not being able to encapsulate God in a human understanding of physical existence gave me no other option than to move past the physical and onto a deeper understanding. I had to rely on my understanding of God as Creator once again to find truth.
God explains this process perfectly in the Quran:
They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware. Do they not contemplate within themselves? Allah has not created the heavens and the earth and what is between them except in truth and for a specified term. And indeed, many of the people, in [the matter of] the meeting with their Lord, are disbelievers. (Quran 30:7-8)
And it is He who begins creation; then He repeats it, and that is [even] easier for Him. To Him belongs the highest attribute in the heavens and earth. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Quran 30:27)
So, I looked to the creation to know the Creator. I look to the sunset and the beauty of its colors, knowing that none but God could create something so amazing. Through this part of creation, I understood the truth of the Prophet’s statement:
Allah is beautiful and loves beauty […] (Muslim)
I turned my mind to the perfection of time and how it never skips or turns back, knowing full well it could be none other than God who could create such an amazing and constant mechanism.
I Found God
In the vastly diverse faces of humankind, I found an artist beyond compare in God Who is Al-Qaadir – The All Able, Al-Baari – The Maker. In my own body and the systems that work in balance and heal themselves, I found God to be Al-Musawwir- The Fashioner of Forms.
I looked to love itself and felt a deep connection to God who is Al-Wadud, the Creator and owner of love. I looked to the mercy of the mother to her child and found there the Creator of this mercy, God, Who is The Most Merciful The Entirely Merciful- Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim.
Through God’s creation and the qualities, I came to know God, not as an old man living far away in the clouds, but as an all-powerful and unfathomable entity that is both gorgeously subtle and painfully obvious.
In maturing my understanding of Who God is, I truly felt closer to Him. I felt a deep love for my Creator. My heart and mind moved past the physical to a deep emotional connection with God, Who can only be understood by humans through the manifestations of His creation and His superlative qualities.
In my realization of all of this, I found God, Al Hadi– The Guide.
(From Discovering Islam archive)